How many of you wear a smartwatch? Do you track your heart rate and work to ‘close your rings’ before you go to bed? Perhaps you use a Fitbit and religiously track your steps each day. Technology has provided us with some great options when it comes to tracking our health and fitness. For this week’s More Than Healthy Tip, we are talking about the benefits of using a good tracking device.
Motivation by the numbers
Did you know that according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, less than 5 percent of adults participate in 30 minutes of physical activity every day? And, as of 2022, the CDC reports that 35.2 percent of all adults in the U.S. are sleep deprived on a daily (nightly) basis. In fact, researchers say that a whopping 97.3 percent of American adults get a failing grade when it comes to healthy lifestyle habits.
Those are some frightening statistics! That’s where using a good tracking device can be really helpful. A health-tracking device can be highly motivational. Seeing those numbers every day gives us good data to work with, and helps us to know where we can improve and what changes we can make. It can also help keep you motivated through competition – whether you’re competing with a friend or just with yourself. A good tracking device can help you to:
- Stay accountable
- Find daily motivation
- Set goals
- Eat healthy
- Drink enough water
- Track your sleep
- Monitor your heart rate
- …and so much more!
Early adopters of tracking tech
Carla and I were early adopters of tracking devices, and we’ve noticed many benefits from using them. When the first Fitbit came out in 2009, we both jumped on the bandwagon and each got one. We loved tracking our steps and comparing our numbers at the end of the day. We’re pretty active, so hitting 10,000 steps was pretty easy. We upped the ante and started trying to get to 15,000-20,000 steps a day to really challenge ourselves.
After a while I graduated to using an Apple Watch. I loved that because I was able to see so much more data. I really liked being able to track my heart rate when doing any type of exercise. I didn’t like that it only held a charge for about a day. But seeing those numbers and closing my rings added extra daily motivation to my fitness routine.
Tracking numbers at night
Around that same time, we got a Sleep Number Bed. This was the first time I was able to track statistics about my sleep. It became a game between Carla and me to see who could get the better sleep score. She had a definite advantage here, as I was struggling with so many health issues that affected my sleep, and she usually beat me.
But that sleep score was a real turning point for me. I started figuring out that there were plenty of things I could do that improved my sleep score, so I started really paying attention. (See Tip #2 for more information on what I did to improve my sleep.) Improving my sleep has been integral to overcoming my health problems; sleep truly is the foundation of health.
Tracking device options
There are a plethora of tracking devices available out there. Depending on what you’re trying to track, you can find a tool or an app to log basically every health statistic you can imagine. Some of these devices are pretty advanced; they can even help track health issues like AFib. Other models can monitor stress levels, how well you’re hydrated, and blood sugar. For serious athletes, adding a fitness device helps with focused training and optimized recovery.
But on a more basic level, most of us can benefit from the more widely-used mainstream tracking devices currently on the market. Last year Carla and I tested out a couple of different tracking devices, the Whoop and the Oura Ring. We really like both of these tracking devices and the apps that go with them. The Whoop is very intuitive and provides a lot of data, but it is also more expensive. The Oura Ring also gives excellent data. It’s easy to wear and you only have to charge it every 5-6 days. It’s also significantly less expensive. So we’ve landed on this tracking device for now…until better tech comes along. (As we know, technology is ever advancing, so this is a market that is constantly changing.)
Let’s take a look at some of the best benefits we get from utilizing our tracking device of choice: The Oura Ring.*
Benefit #1: Accurate sleep score
I really love all the sleep data I get each morning from the Oura Ring. It used to be that you’d have to submit to a sleep study in a sleep clinic to get this kind of data. The truth is, – and I speak from experience – you get much more accurate information when you’re sleeping in your own room without a bunch of electrodes attached to you!
This tracking device is highly accurate yet unobtrusive, so it doesn’t disturb sleep. It tracks multiple body signals including resting heart rate, heart rate variability (more on this later), respiration rate, body temp, movement during sleep, and all of your sleep cycles.
Each morning I can look at the app on my phone and see what time I went to bed, how long it took me to fall asleep, how long I slept, and the quality of my sleep. It tells me how much REM (Rapid Eye Movement, the part of the night when we dream) sleep I got. Ideally, we want 20-25% of our sleep time to be REM sleep. It also tells me how much time I spent in deep sleep, which should be about 15-20% of our night. Deep sleep is very important, as this is the restorative stage of sleep where muscle repair and growth takes place. I also see how many times I was awake and when I woke up. It’s so much great data that I can tell exactly what I do that helps or hurts my sleep.
Tracking helps ‘perfect’ your sleep
Even if you think you got a pretty good night’s sleep, it doesn’t mean your sleep was necessarily restorative. Listening to your body only tells part of the story. If you pay attention to how you feel in the morning AND you use science to see exactly how your night went, you’re able to make changes that really matter. If you don’t know what your sleep quality is, you cannot act proactively to change it.
When I don’t feel great in the morning and don’t think I slept well, it’s usually because I didn’t get enough time in REM and deep sleep the night before. When that happens (which is rare now, as I have learned what to do to get healthy, restorative sleep), I can think back to what I did the day before and connect the dots.
Did I drink too much water that evening? Or caffeine in the afternoon? Did I use my computer too close to bed time? Sometimes I have a “pay attention” score because I fell asleep in under five minutes. That suggests I’m overly tired and need to be careful to not overdo it the next few days.
Accurate sleep data enables you to change daily and nightly routines to positively affect your sleep and ultimately affect your health. And that is an incredibly powerful thing.
Benefit #2: Readiness score
I really like the benefits of an accurate readiness score that a good tracking device provides. Basically, a readiness score is a holistic view that tells you how much your body can take on that day. It’s an overall measure of recovery that looks at your body’s responses and activity levels to determine how prepared you are to take on the current day’s stressors.
This score is calculated by using your lowest overnight resting heart rate, body temperature, all physical activity from the previous day, and some other “balance-oriented” metrics like HRV (more on this to come), sleep, and activity balance. It compares your average over the past 14 days to your long-term average over the past two months.
What a readiness score means
Scores range from 0-100, with 100 being pretty rare. If you get a score of 75 or above, you can hit it hard, as 75 is a good score. A score of 85 or above is “optimal.” However, if you are consistently getting scores above 85, it may mean you need to challenge yourself more and turn up the volume on your workouts.
If your score is 70 or below, it will say “pay attention,” encouraging you to take extra care with yourself. If you are anywhere below 75, you might need to take it easier today and pay extra attention to recovery. This isn’t always possible, and if you have a tournament or a race you might just have to push through. But I find that if I take it easy when my score is low, then over the next few days I feel a lot better.
As an athlete, this data is really helpful to me. Carla and I use the readiness score in our training for competition. We try to get really high readiness scores before heading to our pickleball tournaments. We try not to overdo it on our practices right before a tournament. We find we play better and last longer on tournament days without burning out if we’ve paid extra attention to our readiness scores for a few days prior.
For more on the Oura Ring’s Readiness Score, click here.
Benefit #3: Heart Rate Variability (HRV) score
Our bodies have an autonomic nervous system that is constantly at work for us. While we go about our days (and nights), blissfully unaware of all of these unconscious processes, it stays busy regulating key bodily functions like heart rate, digestion, blood pressure, and breathing, to name a few. This system is divided into two important branches: one that controls our “fight or flight” responses, and another for the “rest and digest” time. Heart rate variability is produced by competing inputs from these two branches.
A heart rate variability (HRV) score lets you see how your body is balancing between these two branches of the autonomic nervous system. It measures the variation in time (milliseconds) between your heartbeats. Normal HRV ranges anywhere from below 20 to over 200 milliseconds. That’s because it’s an incredibly individual thing, varying with age, gender, physical fitness, and genetics. This is one of the awesome benefits of using a good tracking device: you will get information that is very specifically individualized, just for you.
A helpful health metric
Heart rate variability is widely considered one of the best objective metrics for physical fitness and in determining your body’s readiness to perform. The Oura ring tracks heart rate all night long, looking for variance in time between the beats of your heart. It also tracks whether you reach your lowest heart rate between 12 midnight and 3:00 am each night, which is when it should be lowest.
Variation between heartbeats is a positive thing. It means your autonomic nervous system is balanced and capable of responding to stimuli in a healthy way. Our bodies are constantly reacting to a barrage of positive and negative stimuli. Everything from fighting off a virus to stress from a work deadline to being honked at in traffic put our nervous systems to the test. The stronger our autonomic nervous system is, the easier we can adapt to stimuli and thrive.
HRV score and sleep apnea
Your personalized HRV score plays a big role in your Readiness Score, so it’s worth paying attention to it. I also use this score in conjunction with my BiPAP machine use.
If you’ve followed my journey at More Than Healthy, you know I have sleep apnea and have been on a BiPAP machine for years. In October 2020 I started having problems with the machine, and they recalled it. I started sleeping without a machine and noticed my scores were still good. Carla told me I wasn’t snoring, so I decided to stop using a machine and see what happened.
It’s been over 18 months now without a sleep apnea machine, and I’m feeling great! My scores have stayed good. Most nights I get 50% of my sleep in REM and deep sleep, and my HRV score continues to improve. Since it’s a highly personalized score and is a reflection of a lot of factors, including age, it’s hard to say what your score should be. But, once you start using a good tracking device, over time you’ll figure out what your score is. Then you can work to improve it.
For more on the Oura Ring’s HRV Score, click here.
Benefit #4: Achieve fitness goals
Another awesome benefit of a tracking device is that it helps to reach fitness goals. It acts as both an accountability coach and motivator by encouraging self-monitoring and providing biofeedback. Seeing the feedback each day can be highly motivational. Studies show that 81.4% of fitness tracker users increased their physical activity by wearing a fitness tracker.
UCLA conducted a year-long study on fitness trackers using the Oura Ring. Results showed that users made “significant improvement in areas ranging from amount of exercise to body fat percentage, aerobic endurance and sleep quality as measured by how quickly they fell asleep.” JAMA recently published that researchers who reviewed 38 randomized clinical trials with over 4,000 participants found that wearable fitness trackers meant significantly increased physical activity levels after approximately 15 weeks.
I use my device to track my steps, strength training, pickleball sessions, and cycling, making sure I hit my fitness goals for each week. If I’m behind on my goal early in the week, then I know I need to step up my physical activity for the next couple of days so that I meet my weekly goals.
Tracking helps maintain motivation
A tracking device provides a way to set and monitor small, achievable goals that can ultimately lead to significant changes. Each time we hit a goal, even small things like daily step counts or sleep time, this results in a dopamine response. Bryan Byrne, an exercise physiologist, explains that, “This is the mood-boosting neurotransmitter responsible for our feeling of reward. Dopamine’s response in the brain is a strong contributor for continued motivation, as we tend to seek out activities that provide this feeling.” Studies show that this dopamine is vital, as it helps us maintain ongoing motivation to hit a goal, not just the feeling of achievement when we complete a task.
I like that the Oura Ring works with my Apple Watch and imports all my workout information into one location. It even picks up activities when I forget to start it, and asks me to confirm an activity. I know this has been a big contributor in my ability to improve my health and get off all of my prescriptions. (You can read more about my amazing journey to optimal health in my book, available here.)
Using a good tracking device on your journey to optimal health
Having so much data at my fingertips every day is incredibly empowering. As I look at my numbers each morning, I am able to figure out what my body needs for optimal health and peak performance.
As with everything else we talk about, please work with your doctor to see if you too can get off medicine as you improve your sleep, your readiness score, your HRV, your fitness, and your overall health by using a good tracking device.
Let us know which tracking devices you like and why. We’re always looking for new ways to measure our goals.
Free monthly coaching calls
For those of you interested in our free coaching calls, we do them once a month on a Tuesday night at 6 PM MST. Anyone can join us. If you have health questions on anything we’ve discussed or really any issue you can ask it live, or you can type it in comments. You’re also welcome to just listen in as others get coached.
If you’d like to join us, just text COACHING to 1-647-558-9895 to join our email list or watch our social media pages and we will have the link there.
See you next week!
*Note: Neither Carla nor I are sponsors of the Oura Ring. We are not paid for our endorsement of this product. We are just users of the product and really believe in its ability to help improve health, based on our own experience.